"It would be highly unlikely that a homosexual man in direct
contradiction with God's law and even that of other faiths such as Judaism...would go through the steps of becoming a priest."
"The presence of large numbers of homosexuals in the clergy is
probable, although the 50% that Cozzens suggests seems far too high."
"The real hope for the future rests on facing the challenges and issues
squarely, and on taking an unblinking look at what threatens the integrity and
mission of priests today."
"...the most controversial areas Cozzens deals with are around the
seeming increasing number of gay men in the priesthood and what that means for
the gay priest, the straight priest, and the institution of the priesthood
itself; and the painful reality of clergy sexual abuse of children and the
unasked questions about its causes."
"I confess to a certain anxiety as I begin this reflection on
homosexuality and the priesthood. Whatever it said about such a sensitive
and complex issue is open to misunderstanding and seeming insensitivity.
Some will deny the reality that many observers see as changing the face of
the priesthood that the percentage of homosexual priests and seminarians
is significantly higher than society at large. Others will see any
attention given to the phenomenon as a symptom of the homophobia that is
characteristic of individuals with less than open minds. Still others will
wonder what difference sexual orientation makes in the celibate lives of
"Sooner or later the issue will be faced more forthrightly than it
has been in the closing days of the 20th century. The longer the delay,
the greater the harm to the priesthood and to the Church." 1
A Vatican document of 1961 bars persons with homosexual orientation from
ordination and religious vows. However, this document appears to have been
almost completely ignored, at least in North America. 2
It is important to keep in mind that the vast majority of priests, with a
heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual orientation, do not molest or
abuse young people. In fact, the percentage of pedophiles -- adults who molest
young children -- among the Catholic priesthood appears to be lower than the
average for all males. The percentage of abusive hebephile priests -- those who
have a sexual preference for pubescent youths -- and
ephebophile - those who have a sexual preference for older adolescents is
We will most frequently use the rather awkward term "person with a homosexual
orientation," in this essay to avoid confusion. Terms like "Gay" and "homosexual,"
To many conservative Christians, homosexuality is interpreted in terms
of behavior. A homosexual is any person who engages in same-sex behavior.
To most others, including religious liberals, gays, lesbians, human
sexuality researchers, and mental health therapists, homosexuality is interpreted in terms of
term refers to a person who is attracted to persons of the same gender. A
homosexual may choose to be celibate, or may be sexually active.
We will use the second definition in this essay and throughout the rest of
What percentage of priests have a homosexual orientation?
Nobody knows, with any degree of accuracy.
Any discussion of the role of homosexual orientation in the priesthood -- in
fact any discussion of clergy abuse itself -- is hampered by a lack of hard,
Some estimates of the percentage of current priests with a homosexual orientation:
Analysis of the estimates of others:
According to Amanda Ripley of Time Magazine, estimates range from
15% to 50%. 3
According to Bill Blakemore of ABC News, "...nobody knows what
percentage of the American priesthood is gay; estimates range from less than
10% to more than 30%." 4
Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former priest, has studied celibacy,
and sexuality in the priesthood for four decades. He has authored three books
on the topic. He once estimated that 30% of
the priesthood is homosexually oriented. 5 Elsewhere, he is
quoted as estimating that between 25% and 45% of American
priests are homosexual in orientation. 6 He told the Boston
"If they were to eliminate all those who were homosexually
oriented, the number would be so staggering that it would be like an
atomic bomb; it would do the same damage to the church's operation...It
would mean the resignation of at least a third of the bishops of the
world. And it's very much against the tradition of the church; many
saints had a gay orientation, and many popes had gay orientations.
Discriminating against orientation is not going to solve the problem."
Sister Maryanne Walsh, spokesperson for the National Conference of
Catholic Bishops, said that it would it be difficult to find evidence to
support these Sipe's estimates of the percentage of gay men in the priesthood.
She feels that it is also irrelevant. She said: "There's no real purpose in
saying whether someone is homosexual or heterosexual. The issue is whether
they can make a commitment [to chastity]." 6
Bishop Jerome Listecki is an auxiliary bishop in Chicago. He estimates
that "perhaps more than 10%" of priests have a homosexual orientation."
(Emphasis ours). 5
Father Donald Cozzens, an author, psychologist, and Catholic seminary president says that
there is such a high percentage of gay priests in the church that he is
concerned that 'the priesthood is or is becoming a gay profession.'
In his book, "The Changing Face of the Priesthood," --
published in the year 2000 -- he estimates that 50% of Roman
Catholic priests have a homosexual orientation.
A NBC report on chastity and the clergy found that "anywhere from
23 percent to 58 percent" of the Catholic clergy have
a homosexual orientation. 7
Author and sociologist James G. Wolfe estimated that 48.5% of
priests were gay. 8
In the Fall of 1999, the Kansas City Star sent a
questionnaire to 3,000 priests in the U.S. 73% did not reply. The low
response rate could be anticipated. One would expect homosexuals and bisexuals to be
reluctant to respond to the questionnaire since it deals with such a sensitive issue,
and originated from a newspaper. Homosexual and bisexual priests would
probably be less likely to reply to the survey. Among the 801 priests who did
75% said they had a heterosexual orientation;
5% bisexual. 9
During 1990, Rev. Thomas Crangle, a Franciscan priest in Passaic, N.J., mailed a survey
to 500 randomly selected priests. Of the 398 responses, about 45%
said that they were gay. 10
Conclusion: If we assume that all of the estimates are of equal validity, then perhaps
33% of priests have a homosexual orientation -- about one in three.
However, as Father Donald Cozzens wrote:
"Beyond these estimates, of course, are priests who remain confused about their
orientation and men who have so successfully denied their orientation, that
in spite of predominately same-sex erotic fantasies, they insist that they
are heterosexual." 11
Many define "homosexuality" in
terms of actual same-sex behavior. They regard themselves as
not homosexual because they have never acted on their fantasies, desire and
orientation. To that might be added an
unknown percentage of priests who have a bisexual orientation, and consider
themselves neither homosexual or bisexual.
Same-sex marriage involving priests:
Father Karl Clemens, now approaching 70
years-of-age, had served in the Kingston ON, Canada diocese for 33 years. He moved
to Toronto in the mid 1990s to advocate for that city's gay and lesbian
community. He planed to marry his partner "Nick" on 2009-NOV-14.
He believes that he will be the first Catholic priest to marry a man in
Canada and perhaps in all of North America. He said:
"I'm not doing it to start a revolution, but if people want to exercise
their right, and so forth, that's terrific. ... I'm leading the way -- or
pioneering as it were -- in something that I think is very important. It's a
human right. ... There will be Catholics who feel, because of their lack of
understanding, that this is a very wrong thing and therefore will not be
pleased. But those are consequences we have to be willing to deal with
because we feel strongly about the issue at hand, which is the right to be
able to enter into same-sex marriages."
A USA Today/Gallup poll taken during 2002-MAR found that:
72% of Roman Catholics say the church leadership has done a bad job
dealing with sexual abuse by priests,
74% say that the church is more concerned with protecting its own
image than with solving the problem. 13
The church leadership has a long way to go to regain the confidence of the
If certain American trends continue -- namely:
A steady loss of heterosexual priests who leave the priesthood to get
A gradual reduction of the priesthood through retirement and death. (By the end
of the year 2000, "The average age of diocesan priests in active
ministry in the United States is 59. For religious priests, it is 63.") 14 Another source gives the ages as 57 and 63 as of early 2003.
By 2011, the numbers might be about five years greater.
The massive drop in the number of seminary students (From 39,638 in
1966 to 4,826 in 1999.) One source says there are fewer than 4,000 in the
The apparent increase in the percentage of seminary students with a
Then, as Father McBrien said: "the Catholic Church will run out of
priests, [and] will certainly run out of heterosexual priests." 5
These trends may well continue:
In 2002-MAR, the chief spokesman for Pope John Paul II, Joaquin
Navarro-Valls, told The New York Times that better psychological
screening and upgraded training in church seminaries would do little to
reduce the number of priests with a homosexual orientation. He appears to
propose that homosexuals be refused ordination. He suggests that the church
"... less welcoming" of gays...People with these
inclinations just cannot be ordained. That does not imply a final judgment
on people with homosexuality. But you cannot be in this field." 15
significant and growing support within the church for a general and complete
overhaul of the church's understanding of sexuality in the areas of
artificial contraception, divorce, gender roles, marriage eligibility,
masturbation, pre-marital sex, sex education, sex in marriage, and
sexual orientation. Support for change in these areas is resulting in increased demand
among the People of God -- the Catholic laity -- for female ordination, and
permission for priests to be allowed to marry. Both of the latter changes are probably needed to avoid
the shortage of priests from reaching crisis levels. If there becomes an
insufficient number of priests to supply the services that the laity expects of
the church, then laity pressure may become extreme.
But most of the church leadership predicts no significant change in church
teaching on human sexuality. Bishop Listecki has said:
"Two hundred, 300, 400 years
from now, the Church's teaching will be consistent as it is today because
it's rooted in sacred Scripture and it's rooted in the authentic magisterium,
which reflect upon the natural law. It's not going to change. It won't change."
Timothy Unsworth, "The Last Priests in America," Crossroad,
(1991), Page 248. Cited in Father Donald Cozzens, "The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A
reflection on the priest's crisis of soul," Liturgical Press,
(2000), Page 99.
James G. Wolf, "Gay Priests," Harper and Row, 1989, Pages
59-60. Cited in Father Donald Cozzens, "The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A
reflection on the priest's crisis of soul," Liturgical Press,
(2000), Page 99.
Eugene Kennedy, "The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality," St.
Martin's Press, (2001).
Read reviews or order this book This book deals with a broad range of
sexual topics within the Catholic Church.
Michael Rose, "Goodbye! Good Men: How Catholic Seminaries Turned Away
Two Generations of Vocations From the Priesthood," Aquinas Publishing,
Read reviews or order this book